I happened to catch an episode of “The Last Word” with Jim Rome last Tuesday in which he described the Olympics as “two full weeks of events that we never even cared about in the first place.”
I’ll admit that watching the cross country skiing finals on Sunday was about as excruciating as watching a Kevin Bacon movie marathon on TNT, and that I may never fully understand the huge impact that curling has on the Scottish. But the Winter Olympics does present some great competition from athletes who train and perform for principles of sports that have been completely abandoned by many professional athletes in the United States.
Rome also mentioned in his monologue that Olympic athletes were people “you have never heard of, nor will ever care about, walking in the freezing cold.”
As opposed to what? Randy Moss bitching his multi-million dollar contract isn’t enough incentive to play hard throughout a 60-minute game?
Why don’t we care about these athletes? Because they don’t spend most of their lives getting brownnosed by a bunch of ad execs? Because they only show up in the media for about two months of every four years, they don’t earn $60,000 a year for brushing their teeth, and they only have one or two real chances at winning a medal in their entire lifetime?
I can see where Rome is coming from. These athletes aren’t here to entertain us like our beloved professional athletes are. They don’t hold out in training camp because they aren’t the highest paid athletes in their sport. They don’t get in trouble for domestic violence or drug charges, and they don’t whine when they don’t get their way.
Or maybe they do. Maybe these Olympic athletes are just as spoiled, selfish and dysfunctional as some of our favorite football and basketball players. The point is that we don’t really know, because the media doesn’t spend time in their clothes hampers. The media only cares about these folks once in a while. And when they do care, they are so concerned with presenting a telecast that is poignant and uplifting, when something bad does happen it is given very little attention.
If there is any argument to Rome as to why the Olympics should be cared about, it lies in the fact that these athletes are working their asses off for a type of glory that has been long forgotten in a world of salary caps, trade deadlines, player unions and Allen Iverson’s rap album. The professional athletes in the U.S. have become so sensationalized that their main jobs are now not only to compete, but also to entertain and display image and personality.
I’m not saying these are entirely bad qualities. Because the fans can match a persona and attitude to their favorite players, it can bring them closer to the sport and make them feel important as fans. But making it the players’ job to become an entertainer takes something away from the work ethic and the seriousness with which these athletes train and perform.
Olympians rely on this work ethic and seriousness to propel them to the top of their competition. That is what has traditionally been expected of athletes.
Of course, we don’t care about them as much. And we will never have the memories of these athletes that we do of the professionals. But this is what separates these two classes of athletes even more. While the professional athletes rely on their ability to attract and entertain fans to earn their paycheck, the Olympians couldn’t care less whether the fans like them or not. The Olympians are here purely for competition.
If you take anything from these Olympics, it should be that these games only happen every once in a while because this level of competition is rare, and should not be taken for granted. The dedication and work put into these games are things that are of increasingly little value to American fans and professional athletes today. n